Online tool draws in over a million Canadians

With the upcoming elections just around the corner, PhD student of political science, Cliff Vanderlinden and his team of leading academics implemented an online voting aid called Vote Compass, which has been available during the federal election campaigns on the CBC website.

According to the official vote compass website, “Vote Compass is an online electoral literacy application. Its aim is to encourage engagement with and stimulate discussion around the policy platforms of political parties.”

Users of Vote Compass go online and answer a set of 30 survey questions related to political issues in Canada and their responses to these questions will result in which electoral party they most closely relate to.

“Vote Compass was not designed to tell you who to vote for,” Vanderlinden said in an interview with The Cord. “The real value of Vote Compass is to create a link between the voter and the platform they are closest to, not who they should vote for exactly.”

When talking with Wilfrid Laurier University political science professor Jason Roy, he affirmed this statement multiple times. “It is not,” Roy insisted, “telling you how to vote. Have I said that enough? It is a tool used to guide people in a suggested path. It’s not specifically scientific in any way , so there is danger in people misusing it and voting based on what the survey told them.”

Vanderlinden first caught onto the idea when he was a visiting scholar in Amsterdam in 2009 and the Dutch had their own non confidence vote. The Dutch version was created at his school of study so Vanderlinden got involved and brought it to Canada for 2011.

“I didn’t think it would be so successful so quickly,” Vanderlinden said humbly. “1 million responses in a week is a big deal.” However, there was backlash against this project from numerous factions about the seriousness of the project.

“It’s not meant to be taken extraordinarily seriously,” Vanderlinden said. “What I was serious about was stimulating debate. I do take some of the criticisms and try to use them constructively however, my team is open to adapting and creating change.”

CBC program manager James Roy further added, “Vote Compass is a great tool if it’s used properly. No matter what you think about it, people are talking about it. That’s the best part, it’s stirring discussion, it’s raising issues, people are learning something.”

“The media often paints Canadians as apathetic when it comes to elections or political discourse in this country,” Vanderlinden said. “But I don’t believe that. Political discourse may be lacking but Canadians do care about politics, we just need to make it engaging.”

Laurier political science professor David Docherty offered his opinion on the subject as well. “People are turned off by the animosity of elections,” Docherty said. “I don’t think they’re so much apathetic towards politics, but they don’t find it engaging. The arguing between politicians is lowering political discourse.”

Most questions regarding electoral and or political issues on Vote Compass have a ‘do not know’ tab that the surveyor can select. The Cord asked Vanderlinden if he thought people would take the time to research the questions they did not know about after the survey.

“Well, when the largest volume of e-mails I receive are from people who didn’t know what something was about and then researched it, I would have to say yes, people will take the time. The website also offers links to these problems if people want to do further research themselves.”